Nate Berkus Shares His Top 7 Secrets to Style

If every home tells a story, what's your home saying?

It isn’t every day that you get to hear one of your favorite designers talk about one of your favorite things. So when the opportunity arose to hear interior designer Nate Berkus discuss his love of antiques along with his main principles for cultivating style, I jumped at the chance.

As the keynote speaker for the 2017 Nashville Antiques & Garden Show, Nate was full of practical advice along with expert tips for incorporating unique pieces into your home. And for a design nerd like me, every word he said was gold. But I’ve done my best to break it all down and bring back only the best nuggets for all of you. Let’s dive in, shall we?

No. 1: Style Is Cultivated

While Nate admitted not everyone has a personal style, he believes style is something that can be acquired. He explained, “There are people, and everyone knows who they are, who move through the world in a really stylish way. But the icons of American style that we think about, all of that is cultivated.” Nate went on to say that sometimes, it’s not even interior design that inspires his own decorating style. “I like to be inspired by regular people: the way they dress, cook, entertain, even serve water. It’s every little thing.”

No. 2: Style Is a Decision

According to Nate, finding your style is all about making that first decision to do so. “I can’t make a grilled cheese. Rachael Ray even tried to teach me,” joked Nate. “I don’t like to cook. I hate everything about it. If I wanted to be a better cook, I’d have to decide that.” And that’s what you do when finding your style. “It’s about being observant and not flip-flopping all over the place once you find something that works for you, whether in design or fashion. But what works for one person may not work for another. Style is so personal.”

No. 3: Style Is Collected

“I believe in living with things we love,” said Nate. While it may be easy to find a space online or in a magazine that you want to duplicate down to the bookends, Nate would strongly discourage that. For him, creating a space you’ll ultimately be happy in means incorporating pieces that have special significance to you. And finding those special pieces is worth the wait. 

No. 4: Style Tells a Story

Similarly, Nate explained that his favorite pieces in his own home are special because of the memories they hold. “When I look around a space, I can tell you where I was and who I was with when I found that piece of furniture or vase,” he said. “I can tell you who I loved or who I hoped to be at the time. I see things in my home, and they remind me of where I want to go and people that I’ve lost. That’s how we tell a story in our home.”

No. 5: Style Breaks the Rules

For someone who is so familiar with the ins and outs of interior design, it may come as a surprise that Nate Berkus is more interested in understanding the rules than actually following them. For example, when designing a space for a client, Nate works hard not to infuse his own personal style. “My staff gravitates toward similar things, but it’s not about us,” he explained. “It’s about applying principles on top of what the client’s inspiration really is. The best interiors are the interiors where people actually break the rules.” 

No. 6: Style Is Curated 

Know when to say no (and when to say yes!). As a lover of antiques, sometimes finding a good deal is more thrilling than finding the actual piece itself, and it’s easy to get swept up in all that excitement. But there comes a point when you have to reassess the design of your home and decide if your purchases add or subtract from your overall style. “Knowing how much to display is different for different people, but my rule of thumb is that if you don’t know what you have anymore and you’ve stopped appreciating the time and money that went into a collection, it’s time to edit.” 

No. 7: Style Has No Borders

Travel is a huge inspiration for Nate, but he doesn’t expect everyone to be able to jet across the country in search of the perfect table linen. But that, of course, is where the internet comes in. “You have to be really bad on the internet not to be able to find what you want these days,” laughed Nate. “Look at eBay and Etsy. I found a butter knife I wanted on a plane on the way here!” He went on to say that style should reflect your heritage and anything that’s important to you. “It’s not about being able to have a passport. It’s about living in a way aesthetically that is without borders.” 

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